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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
January 18, 2000 2:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, January 18, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. EST

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Yes, I'm here because John McWethy brought me here on time.

Let me start with two announcements.

First, tonight, as you know, we're supposed to have an intercept test of the national missile defense system. This is the fourth integrated flight test. The window for the test opens at 9:00 p.m. our time and will last for about four hours. Everything is on schedule right now. There is some worry about a weather front coming in off the California coast that could interfere with the interceptor launch, but just right now everything, we think, is on track.

Second, in this regard, there were some questions on Friday about what constitutes an integrated systems test, whether this test would be an integrated systems test, that is, one that integrates the radar, the interceptor, and the battle management control system.

The answer to that question is, we won't know whether we can call this an integrated systems test until after the test is over and all of the data has been evaluated. If all the elements work successfully, based on post-flight analysis, then we can consider this an integrated systems test, but we will not know that until we find out whether all elements of the system properly integrate. So it may take some time to reach a conclusion on whether the parts of the various systems integrated into one whole mega-system.

Obviously, we're still a long way away from having everything up and running as an operational system would be. We're still piecing this together. But after the post-flight analysis, we'll be able to -- the experts will be able to say whether this was an integrated systems test or not.

Second -- I'll come back to that if you have questions on it later -- second, this evening at 8:00 Dr. Hamre, John Hamre, the deputy secretary of Defense, will address a Navy conference on the revolution in business affairs at the Marriott Westfields Hotel in Virginia -- Chantilly, Virginia. It's open to the media, if any of you want to go out to the Marriott Westfields Hotel in Chantilly, Virginia.

An interesting sidelight on this, in the area of better business practices, which of course is one of the focal points of Secretary Cohen and Deputy Secretary Hamre's stewardship here, there -- I don't know whether any of you saw it, but there was a column in the New York Daily News last week by Lars-Erik Nelson on reforms in Medicare that were brought about by Senator Cohen in 1996, to eliminate fraud in the Medicare system.

And according to a report that came out last week, highlighted by Lars-Erik Nelson in his column in the New York Daily News, the cutting-back on fraud in Medicare has created large savings, which have extended the fiscal life of Medicare from 2001 at least to 2015. Those same anti-fraud provisions that were contained in the 1996 bill passed by Congress, also applied to the medical programs in the military, to CHAMPUS or TRICARE. So the same anti-fraud provisions have been applied to other programs in the military, as well, in the area of better business practices.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Two questions, Ken.

Number one, the weather in California. Is it that you are worried about high winds that might knock the Minuteman off course, or what would be the weather problem that would halt this?

And number two, if everything works, if everything is integrated on this test, and everything works but that you don't hit the missile, this would be then a failed integrated systems test? And that's a serious -- (inaudible). If you have input from all quarters from everything you expect on this and it doesn't hit the missile, doesn't hit the warhead, then it will be a failed integrated systems test, right?

Mr. Bacon: To answer your first question about the weather; it's, I gather, rains, high winds, low clouds, et cetera -- a front coming in, and the question is: Will it roll in in time to interfere with the test? Will it veer off somewhere else? But that's their main concern right now.

The second issue: I guess you are trying to get me to be specific before the test, and I can't really do that. If the test fails in the sense that the interceptor does not hit the reentry vehicle, it would be difficult to call it a successful integrated systems test.

If the interceptor hits the reentry vehicle, it could still not be a successful integrated systems test because there could be other parts of the test that failed.

So I think we just have to wait until all the results are in and see how they mesh together before we can say it's a successful integrated systems test.

A lot of this hangs on something that the briefer discussed at length on Friday, which is the use of the global positioning satellite data coming in, which is being used to provide some data that the radar system can't provide itself right now, or to supplement data from the radar system. And that's because of the curvature of the Earth, the entire shot can't be followed by the X-band radar system, so it's being supplemented by GPS information. If it turns out that the only reason that the interceptor test was successful was because of the GPS data, then we couldn't call this a successful integrated systems test.


Q: Do you know if the decision authority is Dr. Gansler or is it Phil Coyle or is it in conjunction with the two of them? Do you know?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think it would be handled at -- certainly Dr. Gansler and Phil Coyle would be involved -- Jacques Gansler and Phil Coyle would be involved. But my sense is this will be largely a BMDO, Ballistic Missile Defense Office, decision made at a technical level. I mean, this is a series of technical questions we're trying to answer, and I think it will be answered primarily at the technical level.

Yes, Pam?

Q: I'm feeling a little cynical, and I'm really going to try and pull me off of this. It seems like you guys are setting this up to be a success, no matter what. By having it be an integrated systems test only if it's successful, it makes it impossible for us to say the system failed, if it's unsuccessful.

Like, if I'm in school and I take a test, and I get to decide, you know, after looking at the results whether or not the test will count towards my grade, that's not a really good measure of how I'm doing in school.

So I'm having a problem applying a logic to this. Either it is a test or it isn't; and it works, or it doesn't. Can you help me? I understand that there's lots of things that can go wrong, but that seems to be part of the whole testing procedure. So it feels to me kind of cynical of the Pentagon to say, "Only if this works will we call it an integrated systems test," which is one of the trip wires for possibly deploying a system. Can you help me?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I'm against cynicism, so I'll try to explain this as well as possible.

This system is being developed and tested on a foreshortened schedule. A lot is being crammed into a short period of time. As the briefer explained on Friday, this is an extremely complex challenge. It's hard to hit a bullet with a bullet at closing speeds of 15,000 miles an hour, and a lot of elements have to come into play to make it work. And I think he explained some of the complexities in walking you through what happened with the celestial navigation system and the redundant systems that took over when that didn't work, and how the interceptor searches for the proper targets in the sky and uses information to zero in on the target.

The people who are putting together this program have to look -- they've set sort of a minimum standard for what would constitute the minimum amount of assurance or information they'd have to have to recommend that this system is ready to deploy, just from the technological aspect. And what they've said is there have to be two successful intercepts, one of which has to be an integrated systems test.

So we've had one successful intercept, which was not an integrated systems test.

If this is a successful intercept, then the question is, could you call it an integrated systems test? And the answer to that is, well, there are enough elements there on paper for it to be an integrated systems test, but we won't know whether they all integrate properly until after it's over. So --

Q: Could it ever be a failed integrated systems test?

Q: That's what I was wondering.

Mr. Bacon: I guess, by definition, it would be very difficult for it to be a failed integrated systems test because a failure would mean that the interceptor didn't hit its target, and it would be impossible to say that the integrated systems functioned successfully in concert, that each of the pieces came together successfully, if you didn't hit the target.

Q: Well, what if it failed because, say, at the last minute one of the thrusters didn't work properly? I guess you could say that would be one of the systems, but do you see my point? All of the other things would have been integrated within the test, but if a thruster failed, then --

Mr. Bacon: You know, there are 9 zillion variations on this, and I can't get into questions about thrusters. For one thing, I know about as much about thrusters as you do -- (laughter) -- but it just doesn't pay me to get into all of these hypotheticals here. I'm just trying to lay out how we're approaching this test, and I think I've described that fairly.

Q: You've described the technology fairly, and I certainly understand that from last Friday, but what I'm still -- there's just this small leap that I'm not making with you, and I'd like to understand it; which is, if you don't set out to have an integrated systems test at the beginning, it seems almost unfair to call it an integrated systems test later, when you know that everything worked out. Why not say, "We're going to try to make this an integrated systems test and then say we passed or failed later"?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think we've essentially done that in laying out this explanation.


Q: Looking around the corner, I trust that Secretary Cohen is going to make an up or down recommendation to the president this summer on whether or not it's worth deploying the system as it's now perfected as of that date. Is there a deadline that you folks have in mind for submitting such a recommendation, up or down, to the president?

Mr. Bacon: Well, our goal, our hope is to do that around the June area; in June we'd like to do it. Now, whether we can pull it all together by then remains to be seen. But that's what we are aiming to do, to have the technological information necessary for the deployment readiness review in June.

Q: And would the two options basically be "more tests" or "go with what we got, deploy with what we got"?

Mr. Bacon: I think it's too early to tell at this stage.


Q: Who drew up the criteria that two successful tests of which one was an integrated systems test, who came up with that standard? And what would you say to critics who say that's not nearly enough to go on, if you are going to deploy a system as complex and defensive as this one?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think you have to start with the understanding that we're never going to be able to have a full-up real-life test, a test in real-life conditions, of a system like this. So there is always going to be an element of faith or trust in our own technology and our techniques.

So then the question is, "How much is enough, how much testing is enough, to give people the assurance that we can go forward with this system, that we think as a military organization, we need to go forward with this system?"

My understanding is it's the Ballistic Missile Defense Office that set the two successful intercepts, one of which is an integrated systems test, as the bare minimum standard that would give them confidence that we can proceed with the program; that if they have achieved that, they have a foundation of technological success that gives them the confidence they need to go forward with the program.

So that's where we stand.

I mean, this is, you know, the old question -- the philosophy is, do you start with an a priori system or a posteriori system? Do you start with causes and move to effects, or do you start with effects and move to causes?

We're in a situation here where we're never going to move -- we start with an idea of a system, we're never going to be able to move to the final endgame in a test situation. So we're always going to have to take something on faith, but the question is, do you have enough of a technological foundation to give yourself confidence that the system will work in a battlefield challenge?

Q: Just one quick follow-up: What's the state -- if you do decide to move to deployment, how much more money are we talking about? What then -- what will that trigger? What will happen? Will construction begin, place -- what will happen if there's a decision in the summer to deploy?

Mr. Bacon: If a decision -- well, first of all, the Department of Defense does not make a decision to deploy. That's a decision that the president has to make. We provide information or a recommendation to the president, and based on that, the president then decides what to do. And -- but if the president were to decide this summer to deploy, then we would go ahead and start purchasing the type of equipment we needed to deploy a system. And I think now the -- we would call the system -- I'd have to check on this, but my recollection from last year, when Secretary Cohen talked about -- announced that we were adding a significant amount of money to the system, was that we were talking about a deployment date around 2005, 2006 is what I recall, but I'll have to check. You can check the precise date.

But I want to point out that we're a long way from that decision right now, and that's a decision that ultimately the president will have to make. And he'll have to evaluate all sorts of information in the course of reaching that decision.

Q: How much money would this -- how much -- if they move to deployment, how much money are we talking about?

Mr. Bacon: Well, right now, I think there -- in last year's budget -- I mean what Secretary Cohen did was dramatically increase the spending last year to $10.5 billion. It's been reported, I think reliably, that we're adding another $2.2 billion to that, so we're up to close to $13 billion now in the program. I don't know what the total program would cost.

Q: Ken, would this be an actual system to deploy or would this be a -- I beg your pardon. A decision to deploy, a decision -- something to start building the base of building -- you won't have a decision to deploy until about 2003 when you find out whether you've got the weapon that you could use; right? I mean, these are just prototypes. Or is this a system to deploy -- a decision to deploy --

Mr. Bacon: Well, remember what the Pentagon plans to deliver to the president, hopes to deliver to the president in June is what is called a Deployment Readiness Review, where we gauge our readiness as a department to go ahead with the deployment of the system -- of a system. And the president will have to factor such issues as technological risk, cost; he'll have to look at the diplomatic impact, the geopolitical impact of such a system. He may want to look at other elements as well in making a decision about whether to go ahead with this. So there will be a lot of factors on his desk when he decides what to do.

And now, of course, it's always possible that, although we've had one highly successful test, that the future tests, including the one today -- if it takes place -- won't be that successful, and then we'll have to decide where the program stands after the tests are finished before June. I mean, there are other tests after June as well; we'll continue testing the program, obviously.


Q: Ken, what's at risk? Is this system a thing designed for a single shot, a single missile attack? Is it being designed to protect Hawaii and Alaska, as soon as possible, from possible launches by North Korea? Is it going to protect the United States, the Western part of the United States from Chinese multiple missile shots? Can you say?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, this is a system designed to protect the entire United States -- all 50 states -- from a limited ballistic missile attack of the type that might be launched by what we call a rogue or outlaw nation, a country that has a small, perhaps not highly sophisticated ballistic missile force that it could use to launch a weapon of mass destruction, whether it be chemical, biological or nuclear.

And it is not a system that could cope with a massive attack. It could only cope with a relatively limited attack.


Q: Do you know when the next trip over is, to talk to the Russians about -- or when they are coming here to talk about ABM Treaty modifications?

Mr. Bacon: I am afraid I don't. Those have been handled primarily by the State Department. I don't know what the schedule is on that.


Q: Kind of an addendum to Rob's question. I understand the Russians are here now, that the defense adviser for Vladimir Putin is in town talking to the State Department? Are you aware of any talks about the ABM Treaty going on on that front?

Mr. Bacon: I am not. But I just would be the wrong guy to ask about that. You should ask the State Department.


Q: The part that is funded so far, the $10.5 (billion) plus the widely reported $2.2 (billion), that is just the initial operational capability -- right? -- which I think is only 20 interceptors or something?

Mr. Bacon: I think that's what it goes -- it goes beyond that; it goes beyond the 20 interceptors. But what I don't know -- and we'll just find out whether it pays for the deployment of the first phase or not. I don't know that.


Q: I know you said you are going to have results tonight. Are we going to have a briefing perhaps tomorrow or Thursday, on the test events? Is there a plan for that?

Mr. Bacon: Well, our plan is to have a team here that will notify news organizations, tonight, as soon as we know results. And if it's a successful test, we should have film of it within about six hours. So it should be available in the morning.

And we hadn't -- I think a successful test would speak for itself. And I am not sure we need to brief further on it beyond what we did on Friday. And I think that an unsuccessful test will take longer than 12 hours to evaluate and figure out why it didn't succeed.

So our plan was not to have a briefing tomorrow. If there's some reason to change that, we're open to that. But --

Q: Well, excuse me, Ken. I mean, even a successful test, I believe we'd like to have a briefing; I mean, given the fact that you said you had a completely successful test last October 2nd, and it's been recently revealed that in fact there were glitches involved and it wasn't completely successful.

Mr. Bacon: Charlie, I don't know why you say that.

Q: Well, Ken, why --

Mr. Bacon: I must say I'm completely befuddled by that statement. The fact of the matter is that the interceptor hit the target; and the whole point of building complex systems to do difficult things is to put in redundant navigation and other systems so if one part of it doesn't work, other parts do. And that's exactly what happened in that test. Now, that's not to say it would happen that way every time, but the fact is it completed an incredibly complex task of a bullet hitting a bullet, and it did it because it did have systems that allowed it to compensate for a programming or software error that had been put into the initial interceptor. And it was able through its search mechanism to discriminate between a decoy and a target and then to zero in on the target and hit it.

Q: But the fact of the matter is, Ken, also, which you admitted recently, that the interceptor would not even have hit the warhead had it not been for the decoy, which an unsophisticated country might not have deployed. And at any rate, if there's a successful test, could we also ask for a briefing? I mean --

Mr. Bacon: Sure, you can ask. I just -- as I said, I don't know -- right now we don't have plans to brief, but we'll evaluate the situation.


Q: Ken, sir, if we could just ask in advance, too: One of the things in this test is if the -- some of the data doesn't -- if the battle management thing isn't working properly, then it's supposed to, as a backup, switch over to the filtered GPS data so that you don't just waste a test. That would be a fact that would be very important to know early on, if you have a successful test, whether it's because you had to go to the backup GPS thing or whether it actually worked, you know, with the more real data. Okay?

Mr. Bacon: I understand. Yeah.


Q: Ken, you said that the $12.7 billion, you weren't sure how much of a full system that would pay for, and you sounded like you were going to get us an answer to that.

Mr. Bacon: And did I get an answer between the time you heard that in your office and arrived? No, the answer is not. (Laughter.)

Q: The question is, is there an existing estimate for a system of 100 interceptors that can protect all 50 states?

Mr. Bacon: I'm sure there is. I just don't happen to have it.

Q: Can we get that?

Mr. Bacon: Yes.

Q: Ken, it wasn't that long ago that a report here -- a Pentagon report criticized this program as being in a rush to failure. Is that something that's behind you now? Is there still concern that this program is too much on the fast track?

Mr. Bacon: I thought that that report replied primarily to theater missile defenses, not to the national missile defense program. I could be wrong on that, but that's my impression. And they are, of course, different programs.

But I think everybody agrees that this is an extremely demanding program on a rigorous schedule. It's a short schedule, but it's one that we're doing our level best to make work. And only time will tell whether we're able to surmount the technological challenges fast enough to meet the schedule that's been laid out. But that's what we're trying to do. And so far, we've had one success.

Tonight we have, we hope, weather permitting, another chance to test a more developed program than we had last time. Remember, a big difference here is that there's more of the battle management control system involved than last time. So this will be a more complex, demanding test than what happened last year.

We will know -- life is a series of challenges, and this is a technological challenge that we're doing our best to meet.

Q: How would you respond to critics -- this is probably restating the earlier question, but how would you respond to critics who say that you're trying to make a decision too quickly, after two shots -- well, after three shots, because of the month's schedule -- when you've got 19 scheduled in this program, why not wait until five or 10, rather than make a decision after three, and then perhaps have three successful -- successive failures, or even later on, after you've spent a lot of money on those programs -- well, I mean, why three out of 19? Why not five or 10 out of 19?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think this is a decision that's been made by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and others, that it's a good foundation on which to move forward with the program. I mean, you could wait until we completed every last test before making a decision, and set the program back a considerable period of time.

The reason we deploy weapons in the first place is to respond to a perceived threat, and one of the reasons we want to move forward with this program is to respond to a perceived threat. We want to do it in a timely manner. And because of the time it takes to deploy -- to develop, build and deploy highly complex systems like this, there has to be a certain amount of overlap between the testing phase and the decision phase. And we've tried to achieve a reasonable balance here. Obviously, it's one that people have challenged, and I'm sure, no matter what we do, no matter how successful we are, will continue to challenge. But this is a program that seems to be on a reasonable schedule, from our standpoint.


Q: On another subject. On the soldier who was arrested on charges of murdering a 12-year-old in Kosovo, who will be the convening authority in that case? Who will conduct the Article 32? And is there any question over whether the U.S. military would have jurisdiction over that case, in view of the fact that it occurred in another country where, as far as I know, there's no SOFA agreement or anything governing that military presence?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the soldier is -- the suspect is now in confinement in Germany in a U.S. military facility. And to the best of my knowledge, this will be handled by the Army. And the convening authority -- I don't know the commander's name -- will be -- (To staff) Do you know who the convening authority will be? (Returning) We'll find out who it will be. But I have every expectation that this will be handled in the Army disciplinary system.

Q: And there's no question that the Army would have jurisdiction over this, since it occurred in another country where there is no agreement?

Mr. Bacon: To my mind, there is no question that the Army will have jurisdiction over this.

Yes, Jim?

Q: Do you have any idea how long it will take before the Article 32 hearing convenes or -- and also, if there is a court- martial, do you have any idea whether it will be in Germany or here back at Fort Bragg?

Mr. Bacon: I don't know the answer to either of those questions. Obviously, we'll try to -- the Army will try to move as quickly as possible, while protecting the rights of the accused.

Q: How seriously has this incident, the allegations here -- if you were trying to design an incident that would damage relations between the U.S. Army and the Kosovars, this is probably what you would come up with. How serious is that damage? Is there any way of measuring that? And what, if anything, can be done to try to repair that, the damage in relations between the two sides?

Mr. Bacon: Well -- I mean, it's an extremely regrettable event, situation. I think we -- the soldier's commander has written a note to the girl's father, expressing his personal regrets and his personal sense of loss, as a father speaking to a father.

I think that, without saying anything that compromises the suspect's rights, it's just regrettable that this happened. And we'll have to let the military justice system run its course.


Q: A different subject?

Mr. Bacon: Sure.

Q: If I am not mistaken, yesterday was the deadline by which the services were supposed to have submitted to Secretary DeLeon the revised guidelines for the "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass" policy. Was that done? And when might we see those guidelines?

Mr. Bacon: I think they were all submitted on Friday, and Mr. DeLeon and his staff have been reviewing them.

My anticipation is that we'll have something to say perhaps -- I would hope this week, but if not, next week. I think that what you'll see from each service is a strong statement by the leadership of the service, condemning harassment and calling for the fair application of the "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass" policy, and also laying out training guidelines for educating soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines about the policy and how it should be implemented.

Yes, Charlie?

Q: A bit of housekeeping. Isn't it next week that the senior Chinese general is going to visit here?

Mr. Bacon: (To staff.) Is it next week?

Mr.: Yes.

Staff: The 24th -- (inaudible) --

Ms.: Yeah, January 26th.

Mr. Bacon: The 24th is certainly next week.

Q: Okay.

Staff: Yes, sir. It's 24, 26.

Q: At any rate, do you have any plans for a news conference or anything like that --

Mr. Bacon: Not at this stage, no.

Q: Could we ask for one, if it's possible?

Mr. Bacon: Sure. You can ask for anything.

Q: All right. (Laughter.) Thanks.

Mr. Bacon: Thanks.

Q: Thank you.

"This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400."

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